I have regularly used found poetry to introduce children to the wonders of verse. Using printed text from which to construct a poem gives the young poet a firm foundation on which to build. It eliminates the fearful and daunting blank page. Found poetry is created by selecting and arranging words in order from previously constructed text. The texts can be taken from a variety of sources: ones’ own writing; favorite poems; literacy passages; non-fiction essays; environmental texts. This variety allows for a wide-range of experimentation.
Sometimes, found poems can be created by taking words and phrases from two different poems. Working in pairs, students read and critique two poems written about the same subject. Then they play with the lines of the two poems to create a new poem. I encourage the students to play with both poems. Eventually, they cut and paste lines from each poem to make their own poem. They do not need to use all the lines of poetry in their new poems and they may add their own words to enhance meaning. Their new poems, if presented in any form, must acknowledge the fact that it is a creation made from the work of the original poets.
Poems arranged on a staircase is another adaptation of found poetry, which I believe to be very effective in having students play and experiment with words. In this activity, students find a phrase of group of words that are personally important to them. They can also write their own phrase to express their feelings. These phrases are then written on sentence strips and gathered together. The whole group decides how to construct the phrases to make a meaningful poem. Then the found poem is either posted on the hall for all to see or each line is mounted to the back of each step on a hallway staircase. I love this presentation because as students walk into school, they are greeted by their class found poem. What an inspiring way to start the day!
Poetry Assemblages, using found words and objects, are also an effective way to stimulate creativity. I ask students to bring in ten small objects or pictures of objects and ten words that are personally important to them. These objects need to be things that can be used in a collage or assemblage so they cannot be of great monetary value. I introduce the students to the work of artist, Robert Rauschenberg, and then ask them to use their objects and words to create a work of art.
For older elementary and middle school students, blackout poems extend the experience of constructing found poems. Blackout poems are created when the poet uses a black marker to ink out words of selected text, which then form a new message in verse. Many blackout poems create actual images on the printed page of text blending the notion of art and poetry. The poems can be linked to literature or poetry that the student are currently studying, which give them a deeper understanding of how authors construct meaning.
This week, I came across a beautiful little book of found poems called This Poem is a Nest by Irene Latham. These found poems, which Latham calls “nestlings,” all come from her original prose poems. Latham introduces her method of found poetry sayings: “One day when I was watching robins build a nest, it occurred to me that poems are nests – and we poets spend much of our time nest-building. We gather words, ideas, and dreams, and then we set about weaving, arranging, and structuring.”
I love this description of her poetic process. To me, it is the perfect definition of what poets do. I too am partial to bird watching. I love to linger by my window and watch as cardinals and blue jays gather seeds, and sparrows and chickadees bob up and down selecting reeds, stick, and grasses for their nests. I am heartened by the metaphor of a poem as a nest – a soft, warm, safe place to rest my words.